He’s known as “Vicious,” but perhaps Vivian Harris would be better served to sport Glen Johnson’s moniker “The Road Warrior.” Ever since his title-winning knockout of Diosbelys Hurtado on SHOWTIME nearly three years ago, Harris has been forced to travel the scenic route in his three title defenses, with his last two coming in Germany against Oktay Urkal.
That will finally change this weekend, as Harris is set to defend against Colombia’s Carlos Maussa in Atlantic City. His fourth defense of the WBA super lightweight title will serve as the co-feature to the blockbuster matchup between Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (June 25, 9PM ET, live from Atlantic City, NJ on HBO PPV).
For Harris, this is more than a title defense. It is an audition, a chance to prove that he deserves to be mentioned among the elite when discussing big fights within the 140 lb. division. Such has not been the case during his title reign, largely due to lack of exposure. A showcase slot beneath an Arturo Gatti event should help change that, which is why Harris was willing to take short money for the title defense.
“I knew this would be a great opportunity for me, which is why I had to forget about the money,” says Harris, who stands to make $100,000 for the defense, only $10,000 more than his guaranteed minimum from promoter Main Events. “It’s my chance to be on TV, to show the world that I belong at the top of the division. I am already right there, but this fight is going to make a big statement. The people are going to see Vivian Harris.”
The last time “the people” – at least in the States – had the chance to see Harris in action was the aforementioned Hurtado fight. Ever since then, the only time he has appeared on a TV screen is in the form of a headshot when broadcasters are discussing the top fighters in the division.
The circumstances which led to Harris remaining out of the public eye for the past few years could fill a novel. One day, Harris and this author intend to sit down and do just that. But as Vivian insists, what’s in the past is in the past. Harris has actually fought more with Main Events than he has in the ring since winning his world title. But all has been resolved, at least for the moment. What’s most important to Harris is winning, and giving his promoter a reason to treat him as a top priority.
“We’ve had our differences, but all that is worked out,” insists Harris. “I was happy when they told me I would be on this card. I consider it an honor to fight on an Arturo Gatti card, and will definitely make the most of this night.”
The time slot that seemed too good to be true nearly slipped away from him this past April. Arturo Morua won a unanimous decision over Jung Bum Kim on HBO Latino, confirming his status as Harris’ opponent for June 25. However, Morua suffered a cut in the fight, and his handlers decided shortly thereafter that he would not be ready to go in time.
In came Maussa, and out went the potential for a high-contact fight. Morua’s style was made to order for Harris; he’s a stay busy fighter with modest puncher and a leaky defense. Maussa has been known to stink out a joint or two, and has also dropped two of his last three, including a points loss to Morua this past December. Two fights prior, Maussa was lit up by Miguel Cotto before succumbing to the undefeated Puerto Rican star in eight rounds.
Harris isn’t concerned about the change in opponents or style. He and his trainer/manager, the legendary Emmanuel Steward, have made the necessary adjustments and are fully prepared to deliver a great performance this Saturday. According to Steward, it comes with growth.
“With someone like Vivian, you don’t have to do a whole lot to change him,” says Steward, who will work Harris’ corner for the second time. “I’m making slight improvements and adjustments. The most important thing for him to realize is that it takes time to grow. This is our second fight together, but I’ve been with him for almost a year. We’ve been able to grow together, and he now better understands not just what I’m teaching, but why I’m teaching it.”
When Steward first took over the training and managerial reigns, his first task was to explain how the game works outside the ropes. The result was a potential fight with Ricky Hatton falling by the wayside. Harris was set to go, as he stood to make a career high $750,000 for the fight. Steward wanted to convince him that there was more to the game than just getting paid.
“I’ve always believed that Viv was never of the right frame of mind going into that fight,” suggests Emmanuel. “He was feuding with Main Events, he just split with his manager (Shelly Finkel), and was ready to run off to England to fight Hatton. If the fight was going to happen, I’d rather it happen in the States, where we could start to build up his name, and more importantly, get the fight on American TV. It didn’t make no sense for him to go to Hatton’s backyard, off TV, and so high-strung.”
Hatton wound up facing Michael Stewart for the IBF mandatory slot. He won that fight, and of course went on to defeat Kostya Tszyu earlier this month. Harris wound up returning to Germany, where he followed up a majority decision over Oktay Urkal with an eleventh round stoppage in late October. He received less than half of what he would have cleared for a Hatton fight, but it allowed Harris and Steward an additional four weeks of training together.
A few weeks later, Steward managed to secure an HBO date for Harris. He was to face Mohammad Abdullaev, as co-feature to Gatti’s title defense against Jesse James Leija. However, a dispute over his final salary led to the bout falling through, with Harris eventually filing for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy proceeding led to another battle between Harris and Main Events, this time in the courtroom. Eventually, all parties were able to reach a happy medium. Main Events offered Harris the June 25 date, and Harris agreed to drop the court case.
For the past two years, Harris’ name was only mentioned on boxing websites, spewing venom toward his handlers. For the first time in a long time, he has been able to focus solely on training camp and the upcoming fight. He doesn’t want to think about anything else other than beating Maussa.
“I feel weird doing all of these interviews now, because everyone keeps asking me about Ricky Hatton, Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather,” says Harris. “The only person I have on my mind right now is Carlos Maussa. Jeffrey Resto slept on this cat, and Maussa tore his a** up. I know this fight will lead to bigger and better things, but right now I am focusing on the fight on June 25. The world knows that I want to fight these guys. But I’m not thinking about those guys, I’m thinking about Carlos Maussa. Whoever wants to fight after that, I’m here and they know I want to fight them.”
Come June 25, the rest of the world will finally get to know as well.